MLB.com recently ranked the farm systems for every organization in the league. There were a handful of interesting tidbits worth noting in this piece including the Baltimore Orioles' continued farm system dominance and the Milwaukee Brewers climbing all the way to third on the back of number two overall prospect Jackson Chourio.
That being said the thing that grabbed my attention more than anything was that the Chicago Cubs climbed from the middle of the pack all the way to fourth in their rankings.
In the middle of the 2021 season, the Cubs were ranked 18th. They made no move whatsoever in the preseason 2022 rankings, but by the middle of last year, they moved up to 10th. To start this season they were 12th, but thanks to incredibly strong performances from Pete Crow-Armstrong (AAA), Cade Horton (AA), Owen Caissie (AA), Kevin Alcantara (A+), and Ben Brown (AAA) the Cubs now find themselves having the fourth best system in the league.
Of the five players that the Cubs have in the top 100 prospects according to MLB Pipeline, four of them were acquired via trade and the last was a draft pick that gave many people outside of the organization pause. Fans are quick to jump on Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins when they make a questionable decision, and there are plenty of things to point to in that regard.
They built a bullpen that they expected to work with Brad Boxberger, Michael Fulmer, Codi Heuer, Keegan Thompson, Brandon Hughes, and the impending callup of Jeremiah Estrada. All of those players have either dealt with injury or not been quite the player that the Cubs would need if they were trying to truly build a contender and that is a reason for frustration with the front office.
Jed and Carter also brought in several role players that would be a net negative to the club’s progress. Eric Hosmer and Tucker Barnhart posted a -0.5 WAR and Trey Mancini was even worse, posting a -1.4 WAR. That miscalculation for three veterans that were meant to have an impact on the roster is frustrating.
They also seemingly didn’t have a grasp of the talent in their own system. They held Christopher Morel down in AAA Iowa while he torched the competition to the tune of 11 home runs in just 29 games. If the Cubs had his firepower in their major league lineup in May then perhaps they wouldn’t have dropped the series to the Marlins and Nationals and the team may be in the lead in the division.
However, when you look at those miscues Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins have done what we should all strive to do when we make mistakes. They rectified them quickly and decisively and moved forward.
Jed realized that the Cubs core from the 2016 World Series couldn’t take them where they needed to go again and he turned the household names of Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, and Kris Bryant into the fourth-best minor league system in baseball.
They pivoted the bullpen and moved guys that could have been starters in the minor leagues into relief roles and promoted them aggressively to ensure this team could contend.
They recognized that the veteran roleplayers they signed were actively hurting them and despite future monetary commitments to them, they removed them from the roster to focus on winning.
Finally, they’ve put players like Pete Crow-Armstrong, Ben Brown, and Jordan Wicks in position to potentially help this team later this season and they didn't let the outside noise interfere with their evaluation of the late-blooming Cade Horton.
This team was frustratingly bad for a couple of years. However, what Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins have done is arguably more impressive than what Theo Epstein was able to accomplish just in terms of the speed of the rebuild. The major league team is talented enough to win a World Series and they have the fourth-best farm in baseball; I’m not sure what more there is to ask for from a front office.